A chat with Dane Anderson, CEO and Executive Vice President, Springboard Research
I had the pleasure of working with Dane Anderson when we were both at IDC. Dane is a terrific person and I have tremendous respect for him as an analyst, as well as his deep knowledge of the ITC industry, especially in Asia Pacific. On another level, I have also found it extremely encouraging watching Springboard Research grow into one of the most influential analyst firms in Asia Pacific in a very short time – not just because they deliver great research, but because they are motivated by passion, integrity and honesty. It’s a great story in its own right.Always supportive of my ventures, I asked Dane if I could interview him for this blog, focusing on how ITC vendors could achieve greater results working with the industry analyst community.
Here’s what Dane had to say…
1. How does Asia Pacific measure up with analyst relations?
The analyst relations activity in Asia Pacific has improved significantly over recent years. More vendors appreciate the role the analyst community plays in helping them be successful and, as a result, are more aware of meeting our needs so we can do our jobs. It’s rarer now, but some things frustrate me. For example, some vendors still try to “police” discussions too much, as they would with a journalist. Analysts are not journalists, so developing an open and trustworthy relationship is extremely important. Great analyst relation teams appreciate that we are different, that we truly understand what is on and off the table, and that if there is anything “newsworthy,” we will always consult with the vendor on what can and cannot be shared.
2. What is your ideal briefing?
My ideal briefing is always with a senior executive, who knows their business inside and out, and is at a level that ensures they are both authorised and willing to talk. It is such a great use of my time to speak with an executive who is open and forthright – there is nothing more important than an honest, straight forward discussion, because we know anyway, so we’d rather “know” it from the top. When executives give us a sales pitch, it is a complete turn off because there is no value in it for us. We don’t need a sales pitch; we need the honest truth, because we can do much more with that, but not to the detriment of the vendor – we don’t work like that. The challenges can be the best information, because we can help vendors overcome challenges by addressing it in our research when relevant.
We need open discussions, regular time with senior people and we feel valued when senior executives commit time to one on one meetings with us. In Asia Pacific, the executives are improving all the time – they are aware they need to be committed to our community, they appreciate and understand the role we play, understand the difference between an analyst and a journalist, and usually do things separately for our community, which is all very encouraging.
3. How do you prefer to get access to information?
The reality is, for analysts, any information is good information, so we are happy when information is shared. With that said, we usually look for the information when we need it – so sometimes there is a doubling up of efforts. For example, a lot of vendors are setting up portals for analysts to access the information they need. While this is great, it is also a bit of a pain. If I need something, I need it now, so looking for a username and password, not to mention the Web address of the portal, isn’t really efficient for me. I really appreciate that vendors are trying to be more supportive of us by giving us easier access to information, but we are also busy people and sometimes we just need to make direct contact and say: I need this right now.
As long as the vendors make it easy for us to get content and accept that they still need to “service” some of us directly as WE need it, this system can work. I personally just don’t have time to sift through a lot of information when I’m looking for background on one area, and that is what these portals make us do. So it’s a great thing and a not so great thing, but certainly a step in the right direction. I certainly appreciate the efforts made to give us the information we need, but I rarely use it. I just don’t have the time.
4. Can you give me an example of great analyst relations?
A recent experience with Dell stands out. Dell proactively set up a meeting with their CMO, Paul-Henri Ferrand, and he was very open, engaging and personable. But the most important thing is Dell thought it was important that this meeting happened and we really appreciate that.
But it is Cisco that does a phenomenal job, regularly giving us access to John Chambers. Having the strategy and direction from the top is GOLD for analysts. We have regular conference calls with John and he’s really brought in to analyst relations. John will also set time aside for the Asian analysts when we attend the big annual event in Vegas. It is very much appreciated.
5. What does a great analyst event look like?
While this might seem obvious, a good analyst event is run well, and that means great logistics, detailed directions/schedules and personal letters of welcome. However, probably the most important aspect in making an analyst event successful – a host. It is great when someone is there to personally greet you, is constantly available to you, takes you through the agenda, tells you where you need to be and when, what the appropriate attire is for the occasion, and so on. Time, care and attention to detail are certainly appreciated, plus we get more out of the event. A bad event is when you are issued with a ticket and then left to your own devices. Apart from not feeling valued, you definitely don’t get maximum value from the event and analysts do not enjoy it when they waste their time. It makes us feel like a “necessary evil,” rather than a valuable part of the ITC community.
A recent highlight of an event with a difference was Tata Communications. They held an event at Marina Bay Sands in Singapore and it was exclusively for analysts. It stood out because it was high class and a bit different. The event was focused, the information well presented, the timing was closely monitored and all of the presenters did a great job, and the content was high value. The mood was intimate and it was a really effective analyst event.
Something else that is important is this – an event isn’t always about slick delivery, because sometimes slick equals weak or too sales pitchy. Oftentimes the worst presenters have the best content, and analysts are looking for quality content always, so pick the speakers and topics based on the people you know will give the highest quality information value. And please, end events on a high note! I’ve had events finish with very uncomfortable speakers, which means the event finishes on a bad note. You must leave us with a great finish. That goes for any event.
And one final point, because I have attended a lot of events around the globe. In recent times, a vendor flew AP analysts to the US for a big global event; however they flew some economy and some business class. I have to say that most of us were insulted. I’d suggest do it one way or the other, but don’t mix it up. It’s a really bad start to an event.
6. How can vendors work with you more effectively?
Analysts are typically less time oriented in our work. For example, we don’t have immediate deadlines like a journalist would. One opportunity that vendors often miss is the chance to shape our research agenda. For most analyst firms, we start planning the research schedule in the second half of the year. So ask us when we are planning and get involved. At Springboard Research we love vendors reviewing our questionnaires and adding their own questions – we may not include everything, but we will if the questions are good and in line with our research goals. That means vendors get great value because it reduces the need for custom research. It’s definitely an opportunity to shape the research program and many of the vendors don’t even appreciate that they can be involved. Ask and you shall receive.
The analyst/vendor relationship has, and always will be, two-way. So when thinking about how to more effectively deal with the analyst community, focus on building relationships, get to know how we work, give us access to senior people and nurture the younger analysts rather than dismissing them as too junior. They can grow with you if you give them support. And whatever you do, don’t manage access too tightly, please!
7. What is something you’d like to see happen?
I’d like to see more vendors focused on building strong, personal relationships with my analysts. For example, I recently met with Andrew Pickup, general manager, marketing & business operations, for Microsoft in Asia Pacific. He was a very positive person with deep insights on Microsoft and the future of the IT industry. I’d like to be able to build a better working and personal relationship with people of his calibre. I’m talking about meetings every quarter, pre-briefings on important announcements, and informal dinners every now and again. If we can build really great professional and personal relationships with people like Andrew, then we can deliver even more outstanding research than we are already doing.
Analyst relations is better when it’s informal and relationship focussed. As I’ve said, we’re not journalists, so the progressive vendors that get this obviously have a strategy for engaging with us, which benefits them greatly in the long run. Remember that when you are dealing with an analyst, even in a general meeting, “off the record” means something to us – we are trustworthy. Get to know us, get to know what we need from you to be successful, understand how we work, and we can only do more great work together.
You can check out Springboard Research online.